|Rookie Chris Kelly, left, and sophomore Antoine Vermette, right, are just two of several young Senators players impressing coach Bryan Murray this season. Photo: OSHC|
by Todd Anderson
With less than a minute remaining in a game against the Buffalo Sabres on March 18, the score 3-2 in favour of the Senators, coach Bryan Murray had to decide who he would rely on to finish the game against a team just one point back in the standings. He chose NHL rookie Chris Kelly, sophomore Antoine Vermette and captain Daniel Alfredsson.
He chose well.
Ottawa cleared the zone and Kelly outraced two Sabres defenders to score into an empty net for a 4-2 victory.
It's been results like that, which have given the coach confidence in utilizing his younger players in key situations.
"Almost every day we show (video) clips, and the kids are often involved, doing things right," Murray says.
Vermette, 23, and Kelly, 25, have especially excelled in penalty killing.
"The two of them work very well together," Murray says. "They're doing a heck of a job short-handed."
In goal, Ray Emery, 23, who set an NHL record by winning his first nine career games, has flourished while filling in for the injured Dominik Hasek since the Winter Olympics.
"Ray has earned the confidence of his teammates," Murray says. "If there's a mistake, he has come up big for us."
Up front, Patrick Eaves, 21, has shown no hesitation in driving opponents' goals. He's been rewarded with power-play opportunities.
"He gets abused and he keeps going back," Murray says. "It's courageous people who go and do that."
Andrej Meszaros, 20, has been a tremendous addition on defence as a rookie. Murray feels Meszaros's poise and skill have resulted in his position atop the NHL's plus-minus category.
"He's a driven kid with lots of quickness. His hard work has allowed him to be a real good rookie in this league."
Christoph Schubert, 24, has provided hard-hitting performances up front when called upon. He's also been solid on defence, his natural position. Brian McGrattan, 24, has not only established himself as one of the top fighters in the game, he has also worked hard at honing his other skills.